“Why?” “Because this is the way it’s done” “Why?” “Because this is how it’s meant to be” “Why?” “Because it makes perfect sense” “Why?” And then you lose your shirt and say “Because I said so, and if you ask any more questions I will put you up for sale on eBay” And how does your child respond to that? Yes, you got it, “Why?” (They never seem to sense real danger when it’s staring them in the face).
That’s the beauty of being a child. They are as curious as the human genes allow them to be and will get their questions answered under any circumstances, without the slightest apprehension (I think it’s their lack of wisdom really. I mean they have no idea what it feels like to have their head bashed in with a sledgehammer, or being locked in with the rest of your collectible action figures in the display case, or when you come home after a tiring day at work and your sister-in-law is there to surprise you (even the toughest navy seals will go into cardiac arrest upon meeting mine), or to go sari shopping where the average purchase rate is zero saris for every twenty-three stores visited, and even when your wife asks “Who’s that?”).
I have been involved in more verbal jousting with my three-year-old daughter compared to anyone else in my life (Jousting is meant to be a fair competition and therefore debates with the wife don’t count). She asks what comes to mind, as soon as it pops into her head. She doesn’t care about what I or anyone else will think. She has no semblance of self-image to an extent that will prevent her from addressing her insatiable hunger to learn and grow, every minute of her life (They are not completely devoid of self-image. She most certainly expects a reaction from us after she has managed to embellish her face with the prohibited ‘mama’s lipstick’, that she has somehow managed to lay her hands on. And even when she manages to operate 5 applications at once, again on the prohibited mobile phone, while at age three, I was still trying to tell my right hand from my left). And this is the pattern I have seen with every child of her age that I have had the privilege (this association also deflates my ego, considering these children grasp things with precision, at the speed of light, while I’m still trying to tell the front of my daughter’s diapers from the back) of spending time with during playdates, which are specifically designed to allow parents to gossip and crib.
Somehow, when we get past single digits, we seem to become hypersensitive towards anything, anyone might think about us. And these need not be just our relatives, friends, or acquaintances, but also, strangers, we commute with while using public transportation, passers-by while we walk about our town or city (evidently some of us do not experience this dilemma when we decide to litter the streets), street dogs going about their business as usual, and even our mobile phone camera. We’re our innate bumbling and boisterous selves during childhood, and at some stage in early adolescence we lose our ability to speak openly, and instead choose to hide in the crowd. As many questions as we ask in our kindergarten years, the numbers dwindle towards negligible as we approach high school, before disappearing completely. Our fear of potentially making a fool of ourselves completely overpowers our instinctive curiosity. We rarely ask questions as students (I have had a couple of experiences where I was mocked for asking certain questions as a student and it did put me in my shell for some time. However, I figured that it may not have been a case of stupid questions as much a case of the teacher not knowing the answers, based on their reactions at the time), we refuse to put forth our thoughts at the workplace that might be contrary to what our seniors believe, we shy away from giving our opinion on fashion to the so-called ‘fashionista’ in our friend circle (fearing an open backlash and humiliation), and we even conceal our true feelings from the people that really matter.
The more we worry about what people might think, the more opportunities to learn, pass us by. We curb our inner child in the fear that we might be labeled as childish (Now I’m not saying that we throw a fit when a bar of chocolate is taken away from us, or that we walk around wearing diapers, or even pinch the neighbor lady to see how she reacts). However, what would you think of yourself if you spent years of your life worrying about others’ opinions about you? What if this obsession prevented you from doing the things that really mattered to you and you never allowed yourself to reach your potential?
No matter what we do, or don’t do, some people will always think well of us and some won’t. We can’t keep everyone happy and it is this quest that puts us on a downward spiral towards misery. Only when we question, learn, and grow, do we realize our true passions and our true potential. And upon obtaining both, we will be able to serve ourselves and the world to the best of our abilities. This is the mindset that has created word leaders (Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t worried about people commenting on his less than impressive physique as he walked around bare-chested with steel in his eyes and a fiery resolve. Steve Jobs didn’t care about public opinion on his dressing, as he wore a black sweatshirt and blue denims, tirelessly, day in and day out. Donald J. Duck cares a hoot about people’s opinions on his speeches, as long as he gets to open his mouth often and provide the world plenty of fodder for mockery).
I too have fallen victim to this ridiculous, self-created mind game of public opinion several times in my life. In my late thirties now, I’m playing catch up on a lot of things I could have, and should have done during the earlier stages of my life. However, I feel at peace that I have empowered myself to get out of this rigmarole. So for those of you in your teens and twenties, it’s a good time to reflect upon the choices you make (or don’t make) because of your concern about the public eye. And for my fellow oldies, it’s never too late to start.
Honor yourself by being true to your curiosity and growth. Else you’ll have to face tough situations like I do from some of my aunts who never cease to say “Oh my God, you’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you”. And I respond with “Only in the middle aunty, only in the middle”.